Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Brunch for Mothers and Maurice

Welcome to Sunday Brunch where, among other topics, we're celebrating Mother's Day and the legacy of Maurice Sendak.


The children's book world is still reeling from the death of Maurice Sendak earlier this week. There have been some wonderful tributes online, such as these illustrations from noted artists in today's New York Times. Author Amy Goldman Koss shares her thoughts in an LA Times opinion piece. And my co-authors Julie Walker Danielson and Elizabeth Bird offered typically thoughtful remarks.

Since the focus of this blog is book collecting, I guess I should add some remarks about the availability and cost of books written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

The "bible" for Sendak collectors is known in the book trade as "Hanrahan." The actual title is WORKS OF MAURICE SENDAK, 1947-1994 : A COLLECTION WITH COMMENTS by Jean Y. Hanrahan. This bibliography gives very specific information on how to identify first editions of each Sendak book, along with price ranges. Needless to say, most of the prices mentioned in the book are now extremely dated. That most sought-after Sendak picture book, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, is listed at $350-$500. Today the price has skyrocketed to as much as $10,000 to $20,000!

Much of Sendak's work was issued by Harper, a publisher notorious for making their edition statements very unclear. The only way to identify copies of his second most-requested work, IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN, is check prices, numbers, and blurbs on the dustjacket; the edition of the BOOK ITSELF cannot be identified. Hanrahan lists this one from $100-$225, but today it's worth well over $1000.

Because Maurice Sendak's picure books are so expensive, I would advise beginning collectors to seek out books by other authors that Sendak illustrated early in his career.

The first children's novel he illustrated was THE WONDERFUL FARM by Marcel Ayme. Because it's Sendak's first children's book of any type, it too can ber fairly expensive, $500-$1000.

However, it's probably also easier to find a cheap copy of this book at your local used bookstore or charity sale. If a Sendak picture book arrives at one of these venues, someone is going to stop, look at it, and investigate its value. If a book by Marcel Ayme (WHO?) arrives, no one may notice Sendak's involvement and the book may end up on the shelf for a couple bucks. So keep your eyes open!

Although some of the novels Sendak illustrated are still very collectable, such as MRS. PIGGLE'S FARM by Betty MacDonald:

or much beloved, like the many works he illustrated for Meindert DeJong, such as SHADRACH and THE WHEEL ON THE SCHOOL:

there are also a number of titles that few people remember these days. For example, have you ever heard of this 1955 book that features Sendak illustrations?

I don't know it at all!


When Joyce Hanrahan was researching her bibliography, she checked some of the Sendak books that were held by the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress copy of WHERE THE WILD THING ARE was cataloged and stamped November 22, 1963....


Happy Mother's Day to everyone, whether you are a mother or have one!

Last year I wrote a blog entry on the large number of Newbery winning books in which moms (and dads) are almost completely absent. And it does seem that mothers don't play roles in most of our classic children's books. The Darling Children and Alice go off on adventures without their parents. As do Claudia and Jamie Kincaid. Fern's mother is around, but what function does she serve after her daughter asks her, "Where's Papa going with that ax?"

This got me wondering about the memorable mothers in children's books. Who are the best? Who are the worst?

My candidates for the best would include "Marmee" from LITTLE WOMEN; I'm not sure I ever finished this book, but I know enough to think of Marmee as the quintessential children's book mother.

Who else?

Well, the Runaway Bunny's mother must be one of the best, considering the lengths she promises to go in order to be near her child:

Bessie Setzer from E.L. Konigsburg's ABOUT THE B'NAI BAGELS also seems to qualify. Yes, she's something of a stereotype, but she was one of the first comic Jewish mothers to appear in children's fiction -- both an expert cook ("Raisins are raisins and cabbage is cabbage, and in my pot they won't meet") and a baseball coach! PLUS she wields a mean slotted spoon.

In the category of bad mothers, we have to start with Mayzie from Dr. Seuss's HORTON HATCHES THE EGG. When Mayzie takes a break from nesting, she toddles of to Palm Beach!

Liza Tillerman from Cynthia Voigt's HOMECOMING and DICEY'S SONG doesn't get any medals for good parenting. Granted, she's got mental problems, but abandoning four kids in a parking lot doesn't make her a good maternal figure.

Who are your most memorable mothers in children's books?

Which belong in the Motherhood Hall of Fame and which ones belong in the Motherhood Hall of Shame?


It's always interesting to see the dustjackets that publishers choose for their books.

Does the cover illustration reflect the content of the story inside?

Does it follow a contemporary trend in cover art (headless kids; legless feet; the use of stock photographs rather than original art)?

I just recently came across a new "drug" novel for teens called LUCY IN THE SKY, written by (who else?) "Anonymous."

Do the cover (and the author's name) remind you of anything?

It reminded me of the paperback cover of that perennnial teenage read, GO ASK ALICE

In the book we just wrote, Betsy Bird, Jules Danielson, and I discuss the murky origins of this dopey (pun intended) YA favorite, but praise the publisher for choosing a cover image that has literally lasted for generations. It's almost impossible to think of any other YA novel that has used the same cover photograph for nearly four decades. We can only assume that LUCY IN THE SKY (which references the title GO ASK ALICE on its cover) is paying an homage with its similar design.

Incidentally, few people know that, before it was a paperback, GO ASK ALICE was a hardcover book. And even fewer have seen the original dustjacket, so we present it here for your edification:

I may be one of the few people who remember this original dj illustration. Months before the paperback appeared, I happened to run across the hardcover in the adult section of my public library. I checked it out and brought it to junior high with me. Soon everyone in my class wanted to borrow it from me -- especially the "cool" kids who had never acknowledged me before. I lent it to several of them (I was a book "pusher" -- a book "dealer"!) but my popularity was shortlived. As soon as the book had to be returned to the library, those kids forgot I existed.

I am also intrigued by a new young adult novel by Nina LaCour. The story is narrated by a BOY named COLBY, who plans to spend the year after high school traveling through Europe with HIS best friend Bev. But first they take a road trip with Bev's rock band, during which Bev informs COLBY that she no longer intends to go to Europe. HE is devastated. The book has received several starred reviews and, although I've only read half the novel so far, I think I can say with assurance that this is a strong book and that young MALE readers will relate to COLBY's issues and would enjoy picking up this book.

If it weren't for the chicklit cover.

What were the publishers thinking?


Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature is an important blog that "provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society." Do I always agree with Debbie? No, but I definitely respect her thought-provoking opinions. I've learned a lot from her blog and am pleased we are friends on Facebook. (And if anyone reading this wants to keep in touch with me on Facebook, feel free to "friend" me.)

This week Debbie posted the following paper doll figures on Facebook, with the message: "These two paper dolls are excellent! Please SHARE with students in Education or Library School."

I love them too and want to share them here:

They are the work of Steven Paul Judd, who says he was inspired by paper dolls of the fifties and sixties. Steven says, "I'm not a psychologist so I can't tell you the effects of seeing your people only portrayed in a certain way. I can only speak on my own experience of being a little kid and looking for others on t.v. that I could identify with. Only person I could find was Erik "Ponch" Estrada from "CHiPs". So as a youn'un I pretended to be a motorcycle cop. So my thought is, what if our youth could see there selves not in just a historical context, but as doctors, lawyers, astronauts. So that's when I decided to make these drawings."

Pretty neat, huh?

Although, as Wikipedia says, "Paper dolls have been around as long as there has been paper," in the twentieth century they were manufacured by both game/toy companies and book publishers, such as Whitman and Saalfield.

This got me wondering how many children's books characters have been made into paper dolls.

A quick trip around the internet turned up Curious George:


The Little House girls:

Ramona, Beezus, and Henry:

Ivy and Bean:

and Fancy Nancy:

However, all of these paper dolls -- even those based on classic works -- were produced in recent years.

Although vintage peper dolls were created in the likeness of every movie star you can imagine, including some that rather arcane (Barbara Brittain?) and/or unlikely (Anthony Perkins?) names, I can't find any vintage dolls representing older children's books. No Moffats, no Melendys, no Harriet the Spy with removable hoodie. No Margaret from ARE YOU THERE GOD..? (Can you imagine that doll's accessories?)

Have you seen any vintage paper dollars based on children's books?

Also, this thread makes me wonder if any well-known children's book illustrators from the forties, fifties, or sixties, got their start designing or drawing paper dolls?

That alone might make certain dolls collectable.


Fans of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's 1966 novel, BLACK AND BLUE MAGIC, will be glad to hear that it's being made into a movie for the Hallmark Network.

Watch your TV listings later this year or early next year.

I'm always glad when a favorite from my own childhood becomes rediscovered by a new generation due to a movie or TV adadptation.


I was happy to see this poster, designed by Mike Anderick and distributed by the nonprofit group, Burning Through Books, go viral last week.

I think it speaks to (and for) any kids who has ever lost himself or herself in a book.


Okay, it doesn't have the same prestige of a Newbery or National Book Award sticker, but I can't imagine anyone not smiling at this new sticker that mocks the design of the Caldecott Award and announces that the book it's attached to is "Caldecott Eligible."

Well, of course it is. Nearly every book is Caldecott ELIGIBLE...but many are called...and few are chosen.

That sticker can be found on the cover of Stephen Colbert's new children's book I AM A POLE (AND SO CAN YOU.)

This is the book that Colbert pitched to Maurice Sendak during his recent televised interview.

And Maurice Sendak even includes a smiling, shrugging cover blurb: "The sad thing is, I like it!"

And with that, today's Sunday Brunch both begins and ends with Maurice Sendak.

Thanks for visiting. Please come back soon!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012

Sailing home.

His supper will still be waiting for him.

And it will still be hot.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Maurice Sendak : How It All Began

In honor of Maurice Sendak, here is a repost of a blog from three years ago, telling about the first book he ever illustrated:

Most old science textbooks are virtually worthless, yet 1947's ATOMICS FOR THE MILLIONS is highly valued by children's book collectors. A true first edition (identified by its herringbone-patterned endpapers, price of $3.50 on both front and back flaps of the dustjacket, and notice on the copyright page stating “The quality of the materials used in the manufacture of this book is governed by continued postwar shortages") of ATOMICS FOR THE MILLIONS can be sold FOR THE THOUSANDS. I've seen copies priced as high as $1500.

What makes this book so valuable? Is it because the lead author, Dr. Maxwell Leigh Eidenoff, was part of the Atomic Bomb Project at Columbia University and the University of Chicago?

No, it has more to do with the fact that its co-author, Hyman Ruchlis, was a science teacher at Brooklyn’s Lafayette High School.

While working on the book, Mr. Ruchlis asked one of his students at Lafayette High, a gifted young artist, if he would provide the illustrations for the volume. The student agreed to do the artwork in exchange for $100 and -- now here’s a kid after my own heart -- a passing grade in class.

This kid also got his name on the title page:

ATOMICS FOR THE MILLIONS was the first-ever book illustrated by Maurice Sendak. He was only nineteen when it was published and it would be another four years before he illustrated his first children's book, THE WONDERFUL FARM by Marcel Aymé. Since that time, of course, Maurice Sendak (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE; IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN) has become one of the premiere children's book creators of our time.

Is it any wonder that so many book collectors want a copy of Mr. Sendak's very first published work...even though it is a science textbook? Here is his debut illustration from Chapter One of ATOMICS -- and chapter one of his career:

Reportedly, Mr. Sendak wasn't happy with his illustrations for this volume (he later inscribed one copy of the book with the phrase, "My first + worst") and it clearly is the work of a young artist -- a little primitive, a little messy and unpolished, but also bursting with enthusiasm, talent, and unfettered creativity.

It's fascinating to look at the wide array of illustration styles Maurice Sendak employed in these pages. In fact, it's easy to imagine the young artist going off in any number of career directions after finishing this book.

He could have specialized in portraiture or caricature:

He could have illustrated nonfiction and historical novels:

(Incidentally, you can click on any of these pictures to supersize them.)

He could have gotten into advertising illustration:

(And what a far cry those bunnies are from the rabbit he later drew for Meindert DeJong's SHADRACH!)

He could have illustrated funny middle-grade fiction:

Or worked in comic books:

This one looks like a panel from a newspaper comic strip:

And of course he could have continued illustrating science and technical books:

Or branched out into animation:

...But do you think that anyone looking at this illustration:

would have predicted a career as a picture book illustrator? I'm not sure I would have.

You'll recall that ATOMICS FOR THE MILLIONS started with a picture of a road. It ends with one as well. And, of the dozens and dozens of varied illustrations Sendak contributed to the book, I think that last picture is my favorite:

Reminiscent of an editorial cartoon, the illustration depicts mankind at the crossroads after dropping the atomic bomb. But I read other significance into this picture as well. To me it symbolizes the young Maurice Sendak who has just spent the past two hundred and fify pages showing us the breadth and depth of his talent. Now he's at the crossroads, ready to start his career. Which direction will he go?

Science books? Advertising? Comic strips? Editorial cartoons?

He had a world of possibilities to choose from.

How lucky we were that he ended up following the road that led to children's books.